He challenges their race-based grievances and holds views more in line with ordinary black Americans.
When an interviewer asked me what I made of Joy Reid’s insulting Justice Clarence Thomas on MSNBC earlier this month, I said it was disappointing but hardly surprising. The black left has been calling Justice Thomas a race traitor for decades. It’s what they do when they can’t refute his arguments.
During an Election Day panel discussion with Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace, Ms. Reid referred in passing to “Uncle Clarence”—a play on “Uncle Tom,” the epithet used to describe a black man who is servile toward whites. Either MSNBC is OK with its hosts using racial slurs on the air, or the network is under the impression that Ms. Reid and the justice are related.
In any case, she joins a long list of liberal black elites—journalists, activists, academics, politicians—attacking Justice Thomas as a sellout for having the audacity to disagree with them on racial issues generally and on affirmative action in particular. Testifying against Justice Thomas’s confirmation in 1991, Rep. Major Owens likened him to Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian military officer who collaborated with the Nazis. On PBS in 1994, the political commentator Julianne Malveaux remarked: “I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early, like many black men do, of heart disease.”
The press often presents the views of black elites as representative of the views of most blacks. In fact, Justice Thomas was always more popular with average black people than the media led us to believe. Most blacks backed his nomination to the Supreme Court, both before and after Anita Hill’s allegations of inappropriate sexual talk. “Polls consistently revealed that the majority of the black populace supported Thomas’s nomination and that the lower the income level, the greater the support,” according to the veteran grass-roots activist Robert Woodson. “At the same time, Clarence Thomas’s greatest antagonists were leaders of the civil rights establishment who viewed his positions as a threat to their agenda of race-based grievances.”
Justice Thomas has long argued that racial preferences not only stigmatize black achievement but are far more likely to help those who were already better off rather than the black underclass in whose name these policies are advocated. When the likes of Joy Reid knock him for this view, they are acting in their own self-interest, not in the interest of most black people.
This divergence in opinion between intellectuals and the broader society isn’t unique to blacks. White intellectuals don’t speak for most whites, either. Still, confusing the wants and needs of most black people with those of black elites can lead to dire consequences for the former. Blacks overwhelmingly support school choice, for example, while groups like the NAACP, which claim to speak in the interest of the black poor, oppose vouchers and want a moratorium on public charter schools. That position benefits the NAACP, which is rewarded with donations from teachers unions, but how does it help a poor family with children trapped in a chronically failing school?
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year brought nationwide calls from black activists, elected officials and the media to “defund the police.” But when the people forced to live in high-crime neighborhoods were consulted, only a small percentage cited overpolicing as the problem. A Gallup poll released in August reported that 81% of black respondents wanted the police presence in their community to remain the same or increase, while only 19% wanted it reduced. In a separate survey released last year, 59% of black residents of low-income neighborhoods said that “they would like the police to spend more time in their area than they currently do,” versus only 50% of white residents.
Calls to reduce police resources don’t reflect black opinion in general so much as the views of elites who are least likely to reside in these communities or bear the consequences of scapegoating law enforcement. In Minneapolis, the protests were followed by dozens of police department retirements and resignations. More than 100 officers have taken leaves of absences, morale is low, and recruitment efforts have lagged. The department is now overwhelmed and violent crime in the city has skyrocketed.
“So far this year, 491 people have been wounded by gunfire,” Minnesota Public Radio reported last week. “The city’s gunshot tally is more than double the amount at this time last year.” The city’s poor residents are the most common victims of violent crime, but so long as the shootings don’t involve law enforcement, the activists and politicians and commentators are unlikely to make much of a fuss. They’re too busy searching for the next police shooting to exploit politically, or on television belittling black people who dare to think for themselves.
This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)
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